GARY | At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the main Gary Public Library began its transition from a library to the South Shore Museum & Cultural Center by closing its doors to patrons wanting to check out materials.
"We're only receiving materials (previously checked out)," said one staff member, who referred all other questions to library Director Otis Alexander. He wasn't available for comment Wednesday.
A notice on the library's website states that the main library will close for all public services on Monday.
However, a group of concerned residents wants the downtown library to remain open because it is a safe haven for children, a place where people who don't have computers can access the Internet, a free meeting site and a place where the homeless can find fellowship.
That group, organized in September by Gary resident Robert Buggs, plans to rally at 9 a.m. Monday outside the main library to stop the closure.
On Dec. 13, the Gary Public Library Board voted 4-2 to approve design plans and authorize the procurement of financing for the $2 million construction of the museum and cultural center. Board members Sadie Sheffield and Nancy Valentine voted against the resolution, citing ongoing financial problems.
Buggs said his group is exploring whether that action was illegal because no public hearing was held prior to the vote
During the public comment time after the Dec. 13 meeting, dozens of people spoke against the closure and conversion of the library, Buggs said.
"There were 70 people there who were irate. There was a cross section of the people who use the library and who work at the library. They all spoke against this move by the board," he said.
According to Buggs, Alexander also doesn't support the library's closure in favor of a cultural center.
The board has not renewed Alexander's contract as library director "for a reason," Buggs said. "The board is calling the shots ... (Library Board President) Tony Walker won't answer any questions about the project."
Attempts to reach Walker on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Buggs and his group are asking lots of questions including "where is the money coming from?"
"If the building is not fit to be a library, it's not fit to be a cultural center and museum," Buggs said. "The same money they're using for the cultural center could be used to maintain it as a library."